Archive for June 22nd, 2010

Supporting the world

June 22, 2010

Last week was a little bit tough. Some very odd support issues. And some very odd dealings with people.

I have to be careful discussing support issues.. I certainly don;t want to alienate any clients who actually stumble across this site. Be bad if they recognized themselves and I had been less than nice. If they are still clients that is. There absolutely are clients I want no part of whatsoever. Driving cabs in my youth taught me that the statement ‘the customer is always right’ was not coined by someone facing an armed and homicidal ‘customer’ And while that does not happen any more.. I certainly do not think every customer is worth it. Every customer WE HAVE is worth it. Otherwise they would have politely been pointed elsewhere. So we like our customers and do not want to upset them

So obviously most of my stories about users date back to my days working tech support for the Department of Education and Training. Most of my bad stories anyway. And believe me I have some beauts. I,ll start digging them up and posting them here I think, for your perusal. As with everything most teachers are great. Some are brilliant. I think my Dad was a brilliant teacher. Some however teach because they cannot do as the old joke goes. . I plan on visiting my old work soon.. seeing if I can offer our services to many of the staff.. some of who are just wonderful. Not to just everyone tho. Robert I do mean you. You were half my workload by yourself. You could break a Sherman tank while parking it. I think perhaps you and PerfectNotes are not the best of matches. Even though we like fixing things and you like breaking them.

There is a lot to criticize about education in Victoria. And a lot to admire. Its probably the same everywhere. But one of the things I do despise at the secondary level is the cozy little arrangements between many schools and Microsoft. The teachers and the schools get the software for next to nothing. The students get taught on it. Then they go our and buy it .. or pirate it. And insist that their workplace provide it. Which ups Microsoft sales. The problem is that the teachers do not teach the kids to drive a word processor, they teach them to drive MS world. They do not learn a spreadsheet.. they earn Excel. Etc Etc Etc. Do you see my reservations about this? We have teachers essentially teaching students to be Microsoft consumers. We have teachers who don’t understand that Word is just a word processor, and an expensive non standards compliant one at that. We have Microsoft as a standard, because its whats taught in schools and not because of any innate superiority of the product.

Seriously seriously shi&&s me to tears. You think that teachers would be right on top of this would you not? The fact is that as a group.. and there are of course many many exceptions, teachers are about as conservative, resistant to change and especially resistant to learning new technologies and ideas as any group one could imagine. Its only the students that are at most schools to learn. Or at least such is my experience.

Anyway today’s support story. Client is very email dependent (as are we all I guess). Is using Entourage on a Macbook. Entourage is a Microsoft mail client.. sort of an Outlook clone for Mac. Its pretty half assed.. just about to be replaced in the endless Microsoft update cycle by a version of Outlook for Mac. (Called imaginatively ‘Outlook for Mac’) Amongst Entourage,s failings (or as Microsoft likes to call them ‘Undocumented Features’ ) is the delightful fact that it does not understand Microsofts own PST format that Outlook keeps its data in. And while MS makes a converter it works from one specific revision to another specific revision, so mostly does not work. Just by coincidence and in no way part of an evil plan for world domination this makes going from a machine running Windows and Outlook to an OSX Mac rather difficult. Not accusing MS of clever evil marketing here.. no wish to be dragged into court.

I have a tool that converts PST files into IMAP files that most mail readers can use (Including Entourage) …. (PLUG… PLUG) Its made us some money it has. 😀

Anyway another undocumented feature is that Entourage uses some weird and stupid algorithm to tell if an email is new. And sometimes this algorithm gets upset. And Entourage will decide everything in the inbox is new. and will download the lot. (It lacks options regarding limiting downloads to dates or folders, actually it lacks most useful options and their is no fix for this particular oops. ) Which is what happened to our client all 5 ish Gigabyte and 30000 emails worth. He was not happy.

So this is fixable with other mail clients. And on the server. But this server mail software apparently really really dislikes having its innards played with. So that was out as an option. And the client had forgotten his password. Resetting the password was not a go cos his iphone, his desktop machine, and for all I know his electric razor were all using it. Tried every possible password we could find or think off. Hours of searching through stuff. No go. . OK, so we needed to hack the mail account.

We decided.. and tested all the bits to see if it was going to work.. to copy the encrypted mail passwd file on the server (being careful to keep its ownership and permissions unchanged) to text him in the middle of the night and tell him the mail was going to be down a couple of hours. To force the password change. To fix the issues (using Thunderbird.. a much better mail client and just incidentally a free one ) , swap the password files back.. force a restart of all the components of the mail server (In the right order) . The server would have come back up with his original password unchanged. Whatever it was. Pretty good huh?, Minimizing server downtime matters for this particular client and so we tested every command and documented the whole thing…so as to waste no time during the evolution. Was about 2am before I was totally happy

Woke up at 4 am. Texted him the mail was going down .. and an outline of the plan. Got Kathy to do that cos.. er, my texting skills are not cutting edge. And got a text back moments later.

With the right password.